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Kremlin Shuts Down Private TV Station
June 22, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) - A Russian private television station whose critical reporting had irritated the Kremlin was taken off the air Sunday and replaced by a state-run sports channel.

The government explained the change by saying a financial crisis made it impossible for TVS to broadcast its programs. Yet the shutdown of TVS - one of Russia's two main private stations - gives the Kremlin a firmer grip on what goes out over the nation's airwaves.

The Russian press ministry pulled the plug on TVS early Sunday morning while it was broadcasting commercials, the Interfax news agency said.

A press release from the ministry, quoted by Interfax, said the decision was ``not an easy one.'' But the station's financial crisis and problems with staff and management made further broadcasting impossible, the ministry said.

Workers at TVS were stunned.

``I learned that were were switched off while I was driving to work,'' news editor Elena Korobova told NTV television news. ``I was shocked.''

Another news editor, Lena Vasilkova, said, ``I have a feeling that a murder has been committed. It was like a criminal chronicle, the same feelings ... pity, desperation, hopelessness.''

The editor in chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Alexei Venediktov, said the closing of TVS gives the government a virtual monopoly on broadcasting. ``It's like when all candidates are excluded from the election campaign, except for only one,'' he told Interfax.

TVS was created from the ashes of two other television stations that came into conflict with powerful companies connected to the Kremlin.

Many journalists who work for TVS' news service previously worked for NTV, Russia's biggest private station. NTV was taken over by the government-connected natural gas monopoly in 2001 in what critics said was an attempt to curb the station's critical coverage.

Many prominent NTV employees moved over to TV6 in protest of the takeover, but that station was shut down in a dispute with a shareholder, a government-connected pension fund. TV6 journalists then formed another TVS with financial backing from a group of business executives loyal to the Kremlin.

TVS has been plagued by financial difficulties, partly as a result of infighting among its shareholders, according to Russian media reports.

This month, Moscow's main cable company stopped transmitting TVS, claiming the station owed it $8 million - a figure TVS disputes. Most of the capital's residents could receive the station only via cable.

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